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SPOILERS ALERT

ENTERPRISING SEQUEL?
JJ Abrams has become one of the most powerful people in mainstream Hollywood. He is now at the helm of the revamped Star Wars and Star Trek on the big screen, the two biggest modern genre franchises. When Star Trek came out in 2009, it split audiences. It made $386m worldwide but fans of the original cast criticised it for not being a Star Trek film and for a number of plot holes you could drive a fleet of lorries through. We move forward to 2013 and Star Trek Into Darkness hits the cinemas.    We have already been introduced to Chris Pine as the hotheaded Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy and the rest of the regulars so Abrams can throw us straight into the action. The film opens with Kirk and Bones on an alien planet fleeing a group of dangerous natives. Kirk disobeys the prime directive to save the planet and Spock and so he is disciplined and demoted to commander, serving with his old mentor Pike (Bruce Greenwood). The crew of the Enterprise find themselves thrown into a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the whole of Starfleet with mysterious Federation spy John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) at its heart. There have been rumours about Harrison’s true identity online and his real name is even listed on IMDB so I am not spoiling anything by confirming that they are indeed true. I saw Star Trek Into Darkness in 3D and often I find 3D dark, murky and rather annoying but here Abrams has used it cannily. The regular cast are likeable as they were in the first film and Cumberbatch brings a sense of the theatrical to his villainous role here. Sometimes you do wish for a little more character development and less action set pieces but Star Trek Into Darkness is a very enjoyable early summer blockbuster, an immersive experience on the big screen. Simon Pegg as Scotty stays just the right side of infuriating as he did in the first film and Pine and Quinto have a well-handled chemistry, just like they did in the 2009 film. Is it Star Trek? I think that some of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision survives here as the main cast do channel Shatner, Nimoy et al. It is unlikely that Abrams will direct the third film since he will have his hands full with Star Wars VII but despite a few misgivings, I think that again he has managed to create a film that stays true to its origins while offering something that will appeal to a new audience…

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BACK TO THE FUTURE
Summer 2011 has been an odd summer with some of the tentpole movies disappointing. So it’s heartening to watch a film like Super 8 from director JJ Abrams. A pastiche of/ tribute to Spielberg and Dante’s output from the 1980s, Super 8 is set in small-town Ohio in 1979. It deals with a group of kids, led by Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) determined to make a horror film using their super 8 camera. But the twist is that something strange has happened to the town, with a real monster living there. Abrams has made no secret of his love for 1980s films and this comes out in Super 8, which is shot like a Spielberg film with direction that feels like anathema to 2011 cinema. Spielberg is even producer on Super 8 and it has a very anachronistic feel. And I mean that in a positive way as editing is more measured than you get these days and directing is very deliberate. The kids are all very good actors especially Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) and Courtney, managing to be sympathetic to the audience and avoiding the sort of maudlin schmaltz that could make Super 8 unwatchable. Abrams shows that he is probably one of the best mainstream Hollywood directors currently working and a spiritual successor to Spielberg. It’s not perfect by any means as the last act falls a little bit flat and the monster looks like nearly all of Abrams’ on-screen horrors. But its flaws are not enough to prevent me from recommending it as perhaps the most fun you’ll have all summer at the cinema. Super 8 is highly recommended…



AN ENTERPRISING EFFORT
I went to see Star Trek last Thursday at the Empire, Leicester Square. Star Trek Nemesis, released in 2002, was the last big-screen outing for the characters from the Federation Universe and it wasn’t exactly an unmitigated success whilst on TV, the series Enterprise sputtered to a halt in 2005. So it looked like the Trek franchise wasn’t just dead but buried complete with a wake and there was a realisation that perhaps there was no room for Star Trek in a world with Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica in it. Fast forward to 2009, Battlestar Galactica has come to a close and we are greeted with a new Star Trek film. Directed by Abrams, whose deft hand for genre has steered handheld monster movie Cloverfield, while on TV has been responsible for guiding Lost, Alias and the current genre hit Fringe. So when it was announced that Abrams would be the one responsible, with his writing partners Orci and Kurtzman, Paramount must have wept with joy. This Star Trek goes back to the beginning to show us a young Kirk, a youthful but not inexperienced Spock and gives us the story of how the crew came together. We see how Kirk first meets Uhuru (played by the gorgeous Zoe Saldana) while still a farmboy in Iowa, how he gets into a punchup with her fellow Starfleet cadets and we even find out what motivates Spock to join Starfleet rather than the Vulcan Science Academy. The film plays up his mixed lineage (half-human, half-Vulcan). We also get to see a young Kirk take the Kobayashi Maru test, its outcome bringing him into conflict with Spock. It opens with a killer punch to the face with a recurring mcguffin about time travel. In fact, what happens in the opening sequence has echoes through time, effectively creating the situation that forces James Kirk to join Starfleet. The cast are very good indeed especially Pine, who channels Shatner but not in a parodic way, and Quinto has the depth needed to portray a young Spock while bringing enough of his own acting abilities to bear that the chemistry between young Kirk and young Spock is electrifying at times. Karl Urban as Bones sounds like the departed Deforest Kelly but that comes across as charming rather than grating. It’s hard to believe this was the same actor who played the ponytailed Eomer in Lord of The Rings. Abrams has also created a decent adversary in the shape of maniacal future Romulan Nero, played by Eric Bana. Nero is the man who is at the heart of the time travel shenanigans here. By this point, the Romulans have ditched the duvets and they are dressed in leather with wicked-looking facial tattoos that give them an almost Maori feel to the way they look on screen. Of course, we have to address the Nimoy cameo. The cameo is used smartly and old Spock reveals facts that explain that this Star Trek reboot doesn’t negate the previous adventures, something that allows fans of the old show and the previous movies the opportunity to continue to regard what has gone before as still part of Trek’s canon. The interplay between craggy Spock and young hothead Pine works very well too. Star Trek is not note-perfect by any means: Pegg as Scotty can be a little annoying and sometimes it feels like he’s a fan who’s won a competition to appear in Star Trek and sometimes the plot holes are a little bit noticeable. But minor quibbles (or should that be tribbles☺) aside, Star Trek is an exciting, likeable and entertaining Summer popcorn blockbuster that deserves to sweep aside the opposition at the box office. Abrams has revived the franchise in style and it will be exciting to see what he does with the next instalment…


A MONSTER OF A MOVIE
There has been much discussion about the film Cloverfield ever since its trailer was leaked last summer. Speculation about its real name has been rife with the trailer ending with no title, merely the legend 01.18.2008. I went to a press screening of it last Thursday at Empire Leicester Square, one of the biggest screened cinemas in the country. Produced by JJ Abrams (of Lost and Alias fame and currently working to resurrect the Star Trek franchise) and directed by his mate Matt Reeves, Cloverfield is shot all on hand-held camera, so as a viewer you are forced to adapt to the different feel of the film and as a monster movie, it delivers what it promises. A creature is attacking New York and we witness the devastation wrought by its presence and get to see it close up, thanks to the central conceit of the film: that this is footage shot by Hud Platt, played by TJ Miller, while it’s all going on. At 75 minutes running time, it’s one of the shortest films in recent memory and it manages to capture the chaos and dispair something like this might cause to the residents of a huge city like New York. The characters are fairly throwaway but you aren’t here for the deep characterisation. The monster looks fairly scary, visually it is impressive and the sound editing here is amazing: Cloverfield should be seen on a big screen at the cinema. Of course, it has its flaws (the handheld camerawork does lead to headaches on a couple of occasions) but as a technical exercise and as a rollercoaster ride, it does exactly what it should do. It’s not a film that people will be talking about for years but Cloverfield is a film that people interested in cinema should see once…